Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sid Kirkland donating kidney to friend and co-worker

Sid Kirkland, who turns 43 today, is donating a kidney to his friend and co-worker Betsy Justice.

“When we were first beginning to talk about this, I kept asking him why he wanted to do this for me,” Justice said. “I mean, I've got friends that I've known 25 to 30 years, and none of them stepped up and offered me a kidney.”

The two were scheduled to be wheeled into the operating room at Loma Linda University Medical Center this morning to undergo kidney transplant surgery.

Justice, 48, who was diagnosed with chronic end-stage renal failure — kidney failure — last August, has been on the transplant list for less than a year.

The two have been friends for just as long.

“Most people have to wait five to seven years for a match,” Justice said. “But I am one of the lucky ones. I waited less than a year to get well from this disease.”

Kirkland and Justice, both Realtors and La Quinta residents, met casually through mutual friends during the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament about two years ago.

Then in November, Kirkland joined California Lifestyle Realty and began to work side by side with Justice.

He soon learned of Justice's condition and by January Kirkland decided he wanted to do something about it.

“I was with a client at the time, and Sid came over and said, ‘Hey I need to talk to you.' And I said, ‘Really? What about?'”

Imitating Kirkland at that moment, Justice patted her lower back and recalled Kirkland saying: “‘About one of these.'”

Justice said she remembered laughing and saying, “‘That's funny. What? You got an extra kidney you want to give me?' And he says, ‘Matter of fact, I do.'

“I was really taken aback by that. I wasn't sure if he was serious.”

Astonished, baffled and a bit skeptical, Justice said said she found herself constantly asking why he had offered. Then she received her answer.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Seriously, why are you doing this for me? I need to understand your reasoning because this is such a big deal,'” Justice said, crying. “And he said to me, ‘It gives me the opportunity, as a human being, to do something in this lifetime that is bigger than the sum of who I am.'”

She paused again to wipe a tear as it tried creeping down her cheek.

“I thought that was really, very profound,” she said.

A match is found
Justice, who has had a history of high blood pressure but was healthy otherwise, said she began feeling a change in the spring of 2007.

“I didn't have any energy, I had bad skin. ... I had a lot of weird symptoms,” Justice recalled. “I had a rash on my back that was itching all the time — just weird stuff. I knew something was wrong, but I just thought that I was deficient.”

Then when $200 worth of vitamins didn't do it for her, she thought maybe she was “just hormonal.”

But one day last August, she had to figure out what was happening to her body.

“I was shaking all the time. I mean, I could really feel something was wrong inside of me,” she said. “I had a splitting headache, and this was ongoing for several months, so I checked into emergency.”

After a quick blood sample, the wondering was over and a nephrologist on call that night came to her bedside to tell her she had hypertensive nephrosclerosis — which wasn't a surprise because she had a history of high blood pressure — and was suffering from chronic end-stage renal failure.

“I said, ‘What does that mean?' And he answered, ‘Your kidneys are functioning at about 8 percent of 100 (percent) and we need to put you on dialysis immediately' — and then I threw up,” she recalled.

Two days later, a catheter was inserted into her chest — “my rubbery little port where I can get cleaned up” — and has since been taking dialysis treatments three to four times a week for the past year.

During the six months after her diagnosis, she began the screening process to become a transplant candidate.

She ended up on the transplant list for a cadaver donor by January.

Shortly after, Kirkland stepped up to be her living donor.

“The more and more I found out about it, the more and more it just felt right,” he said. “I don't know why I wanted to at first, really. I guess it was just a calling.”

In California to date, 9,831 living donors have given their kidneys to people in need of transplants, according to The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Of that number, there have been 266 living kidney donors in the state so far this year.

“You can make that 267, thanks to my friend, Sid,” Justice said.

Prepping for the day
Sid says he has had no reservations.

“I've been kind of gung-ho with the whole thing the entire time,” Kirkland said, beaming.

His family initially wasn't as comfortable, though.

“I was nervous about it at first. In fact, I thought he was crazy,” said Kirkland's wife Laurie Kirkland, laughing. “I was concerned about his well-being because if something happened to him, I mean, we have kids.”

The Kirklands have two teens, 14-year-old Curtis who has an autistic related disability and 12-year-old Stephanie.

“But he did a lot of research and that helped with coping,” Laurie said.

As part of Kirkland's preparation for today's surgery, he said he's watched two kidney transplant surgeries via the Internet.

How did Justice prepare for her big day?

“I've just been on my knees, thankful to the good Lord every night,” she said.

Prodding and poking
The screening process to ensure living donors and those receiving the organ is a rigorous one, Kirkland and Justice said.

“She's been pricked, prodded and probed and I've been pricked, prodded and probed,” Kirkland said.

But even after the relief of knowing they were a match in March, Justice and Kirkland had to undergo one more hurdle last week — their last cross-match test.

“It freaked me out,” Justice said. “Up to the very last minute, it could have gone wrong. And I thought this whole time, once you're a match, you're a match.”

Kirkland received his final medical bracelet Aug. 5 and Justice put hers on Aug. 6 to confirm they are matches for the surgery.

The two can't take off their “friendship bracelets” until after the surgery.

“I'm happier than I could ever be knowing I'm going to give her my kidney on my birthday,” Kirkland said. “It's better than a T-shirt or anything I could ever get.”

For Justice, whose birthday isn't until October, this will forever be the greatest gift she'll ever get to accept.

“It's a bit of an overwhelming gift to receive on my part,” Justice said, “knowing that this generous person wants to do this generous deed for me.”